The Daily Illini

The time to win is now for Illinois volleyball

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The time to win is now for Illinois volleyball

Jacqueline Quade (7) and Ali Bastianelli (5) jump up together to block the spike from Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Jacqueline Quade (7) and Ali Bastianelli (5) jump up together to block the spike from Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Elisabeth Neely

Jacqueline Quade (7) and Ali Bastianelli (5) jump up together to block the spike from Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Jacqueline Quade (7) and Ali Bastianelli (5) jump up together to block the spike from Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Following its toughest weekend of the season, with matches against the No. 2 and No. 3 team in the country, the Illinois volleyball team has lost seven matches in a row.

“This is the toughest weekend we’re gonna see, I mean this could be a Final Four weekend,” Head Coach Kevin Hambly said. “We have to chalk it up and move on and try and finish this season out.”

Seven straight losses have knocked the team out of the AVCA top 25 and brought its record almost back to .500. The NCAA tournament spot that seemed like a given when the team was 7-2 in the conference may now be out of reach for the Illini.

Hambly said before the weekend that five wins out of their final six games would make the Illini a no-brainer for a tournament spot, but four wins from six would give them a chance. Two losses later, getting four wins means winning out the rest of the season.

“I think we can (win out),” Hambly said following the Minnesota match Saturday. “I think the wins are out there. It’s gonna be hard; it’s gonna be tough, but the wins are out there for us and we just have to go and get them.”

The Illini start the weekend hosting Maryland on Friday. Illinois beat the team in Maryland five sets earlier this year.

The team will host Ohio State on Saturday in its final home game of the season. The Illinois then travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on Rutgers for a second time.

The hardest test will come in the final match of the season, when Illinois will travel to take on the No. 10 Penn State.

Quade plays her way out of slump

One positive sign for the Illini heading into this crucial stretch is the return of outside hitter Jacqueline Quade.

Quade has struggled during the team’s losing streak, but the freshman had a breakthrough Saturday, recording double-digit kills for the first time in exactly one month.

Before the losing streak, Quade was the Illini’s leader in both kills and kills per set, and had been one of the most consistent attackers for the Illini. But since her losing streak began, Quade has been anything but effective, recording fewer kills and even hitting for negative percentages in two matches.

“The league has seen her, and now they have a plan for her,” Hambly said.

“Shots I had been scoring on aren’t working as much anymore, so I’ve been trying to mix it up,” Quade said. “I’m primarily a cross-court hitter, so just throwing in some line to keep them off-balance, put soft stuff over to keep them honest.”

Quade recorded a match-high 15 kills against a Minnesota defense that held the Illini under .200 hitting percentage for the match.

Hambly was encouraged by the performance and said that he will need Quade at her best in the last four games of the season.

Crittenden’s Availability in Doubt

Senior Naya Crittenden left Saturday night’s match early due to illness. Hambly did not comment on a timetable for her return, but he is hopeful that she will be ready for next weekend.

Crittenden also had surgery to remove a wisdom tooth on Monday according to assistant coach Katie Roustio, casting further doubt on her availability against Maryland and Ohio State.

“It was only one (tooth),” Roustio said on Monday. “We’re going to have a meeting about (whether or not she can play) later today.”

Hambly said that if she can play, the team will need her at her best.

“We need Naya to finish strong. She’s been dealing with a lot of illnesses and she wasn’t able to go after the first set (against Minnesota) and she was not herself. But we need her to get going.”

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@Jacob_Diaz31

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